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Originally Published: 3/4/2017

Trump’s First Address:  Trump gave his first address to Congress. These events are usually referred to as the state of the union (SOTU) address, but traditionally a president can’t give a SOTU until having been in office for a year. Therefore, it was an “address to a joint session of Congress.” Here’s a transcript of his remarks. (Vox) It was a speech full of stuff, but here are some highlights. And you can watch Stephen Colbert summarize Trump’s vision for America. (You Tube) The Intercept wrote that “the only concrete takeaway” from the speech is that “medicaid is doomed.” The Nation noted that Trump “signaled his plans for domestic austerity and military bloat.” The Washington Post fact-checked his statements and found “it was filled with numerous inaccuracies. In fact, many of the president’s false claims are old favorites that he trots out on a regular, almost daily, basis.” The Washington Post also separately called out Trump’s claims that nearly 20 million are paying an Obamacare penalty. They’ve got the numbers to prove the lie. Despite the lies, 57% of those who tuned in said “they had a very positive reaction to the speech” and nearly 70% said that his proposals “would move the country in the right direction.” Almost 66% said Trump has the right priorities for the country. (CNN) Maybe only right-wingers were watching because progressives didn’t see it that way. A couple days after his address Stephen Colbert had another critique of Trump’s performance. (You Tube)


Russian Connection:  In the last days of the Obama administration, White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election with 2 aims in mind: “to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.” The British and the Dutch “had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials,” including people close to Putin, and Trump associates. Also, U.S. intelligence agencies “had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.” (NY Times) And then there’s Felix Sater, one of the trio behind the proposal to lift sanctions against Russia. (TWW, Exxon and Russia, 2/25/17) He’s a “Russian-born businessman” who has “done a stint in prison for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass.” He’s now “awaiting sentencing for his role in a Mafia-orchestrated stock fraud scheme - all the while serving as a government informant on the mob and mysterious matters of national security.” (Washington Post) His ties to Trump are deep and well-known. (Forbes)


Media War:  Trump isn’t giving up on his war on the media. He announced that he will skip the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner. (Roll Call) He will be the first president to skip the dinner in over 30 years. (NBC) Jon Stewart visited Stephen Colbert and had a lot to say about the “war.” It’s really good. Watch it at You Tube.


Trump Dossier:  If you’re wondering how seriously the FBI is taking the dossier put together on Trump (TWW, Trump Ties to Russia, 1/14/17), here’s your answer. Just before the election the FBI “reached an agreement” with Christopher Steele, the dossier’s author, to “continue his work.” The agreement did not go forward. “Communications between the bureau and the former spy were interrupted as Steele’s now-famous dossier became the subject of news stories, congressional inquiries, and presidential denials.” (Washington Post


Wilbur Ross:  Billionaire investor Ross has been confirmed as Commerce Secretary. (Washington Post) Ross has declared that he would “protect American workers and tear up bad trade deals that harmed American industry.” But, as the NY Times pointed out, for more than a decade those same trade deals have helped Ross “amass a fortune across the globe - in countries like Mexico and China. . . Ross has sometimes invested overseas in ways that Mr. Trump condemns.”


Rick Perry:  He’s been confirmed as Energy Secretary. Yeah. The guy who said he wanted to get rid of the Energy Department. The vote was 62 to 37 after only “a few hours” of debate. Lots of Dems voted for him: Mark Warner (VA), Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Tom Udall (NM), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), Tom Carper (DL), and Joe Donnelly (IN), and Independent Angus King (ME). (The Hill)


Ryan Zinke:  He was approved 68 to 31 as Interior Secretary, “with 17 members of the Democratic Caucus backing his nomination.” As a U.S. representative from Montana, Zinke voted twice to make it easier to privatize public lands. (District Sentinel)


Ben Carson:  He was confirmed as Housing and Urban Development Secretary, largely along party lines with Senator Sherrod Brown (D, OH) supporting him. (Washington Post)


Rod Rosenstein:  AG Jeff Sessions has picked Rosenstein, the acting deputy attorney general, to be confirmed as Deputy Attorney General. Rosenstein will oversee the the FBI’s investigation into “Russian meddling” and “any links between Russian officials and Trump’s associates.” A Republican, he is a hold-over from the Bush administration and “is widely respected by Democrats and Republicans for his experience working on sensitive cases in the face of political pressure.” His senate confirmation hearings are scheduled for this week. (Washington Post)


Jay Clayton:  He’s been picked to head the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). He’s a Wall Street lawyer “whose specialities include mergers and acquisitions.” The Office of Government Ethics has already cleared him. (Reuters)


Filming Cops:  A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in a 2 to 1 decision, ruled that the public has a right to film the police, but that this right “is not absolute and is not applicable everywhere.” (ARS Technica)


Israel:  Bezalel Smotrich, a “far-right Israeli MP” who backed the law legalizing the annexation of Palestinian land (TWW, Israel, 2/11/17), “will personally benefit from the legislation, because his home is one of several thousand covered by the provision.” (Guardian)


Sweden:  It is reintroducing the draft “after struggling to fill army ranks on a voluntary basis.” They claim that the “increased Russian military activity in the Baltics” is one of the reasons for the “policy U-turn.” (Guardian)


Arkansas:  State representative Kim Hendren has introduced a bill to ban the works of Howard Zinn from publicly funded schools. (Common Dreams)


California:  A support column under the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge on Highway 1 in Big Sur has a large crack that is continuing the grow. The road has been closed indefinitely. (Monterey County Weekly)


Florida:  The state supreme court, in a 4 to 2 decision, rejected a claim that the state’s ban on openly carrying firearms is unconstitutional. They said it isn’t unconstitutional because it bans only 1 way of carrying handguns. (WTSP)


Kansas:  The state supreme court ruled unanimously that the state’s spending on public education was “unconstitutionally low.” The court said that “black, Hispanic, and poor students were especially harmed by the lack of funding, pointing to lagging test scores and graduation rates.” They set June 30th as a deadline for lawmakers to pass a new constitutional funding formula. (NY Times)


New York:  The New York Pet Welfare Association, a group representing pet shops, dog breeders, and veterinarians, sued New York City over its 2015 law requiring pet shops to only obtain dogs and cats from federally licensed breeders “with clean recent animal welfare records” and bars them from selling dogs and cats at least 8 weeks old and weighing 2 pounds unless they were sterilized. In 2015 U.S. District Judge John Gleeson ruled that the law was just fine. This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upheld Gleeson’s ruling. (Reuters)


South Dakota:  Governor Dennis Daugaard, fearing protests over another oil pipeline being built in his state, is “considering a potential state law aimed at punishing possible protesters.” Daugaard wants temporary powers “to stop people from assembling in South Dakota, in places that would be designated as public safety zones by the governor.” (Rapid City Journal)


Texas On Planned Parenthood:  U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks “temporarily blocked Texas from cutting off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, ruling the state had presented no credible evidence to support claims the organization violated medical or ethical standards related to abortion procedures.” (NY Times)


Texas on Voter ID:  Our new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the well-known racist who supports voter suppression of blacks, has “dropped a crucial objection to Texas’ strict voter-identification law.” A federal appeals court had ruled that parts of Texas’ law needed to be changed because it discriminated against minority voters (TWW, Texas, 7/23/16) and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal. (TWW, Texas on Voter ID, 1/28/17) This case was brought by the Justice Department and the DOJ is now dropping the case. (NY Times)


Texas on Pot:  The city of Houston and Harris County have rolled out the Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program, which effectively decriminalizes low-level possession of marijuana. Less than 4 ounces in your pocket and you can avoid arrest by agreeing to take a 4-hour, $150 drug education class. (Free Thought Project)


Virginia:  In 2015 a panel of the U.S. District Court in Richmond upheld 11 of the challenged voting districts because racial make-up had been the primary factor in drawing them. This week the U.S. Supreme Court told the lower court to reconsider the issue, giving Virginia Democrats “a fresh chance to challenge parts of the legislative map for the state’s House of Delegates.” The justices didn’t take a position on this issue, they just sent it back to the lower court. (NY Times)


Trump’s Budget:  I can’t wait to see this budget. Apparently Trump is “reluctant” to cut entitlement programs and this “could lead to sharp tensions with Republicans in Congress who have long argued that Medicare and Social Security must be overhauled to ensure the government’s fiscal health.” (Washington Post) Another bit that’s leaked out is his proposal to cut the State Department budget by 37%, all from diplomatic and foreign-aid funding. (Wall Street Journal) Trump wants what he calls an “historic” increase in defense spending of $54 billion. “A White House budget official, who outlined the plan on a conference call with reporters,” said this an an increase of 10%. “But Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, said the plan would bring the Pentagon’s budget to $603 billion in total, just 3% more than the $584 billion the agency spent in the most recent fiscal year.” However, Republicans are balking, saying it’s not enough. (Reuters) So, nothing for diplomacy but plenty for the military. This tells us a lot about his plans. Trump is also cutting the Environmental Protection Agency. “According to a leaked copy of the EPA’s 2015 budget proposal, the agency’s overall budget would be slashed by 25%.” (Democracy Now!) And his proposed budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “the government’s premier climate science” agency, is slated for a cut of 17%. The cuts will mean less funding for research and satellite programs and will eliminate funding “for a variety of smaller programs, like external research, coastal management, estuary reserves, and ‘coastal resilience,’ which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas.” (Washington Post)


Supreme Court Plaza:  For decades a law has been in effect banning protests and even crowds in the Supreme Court plaza. In 2015 a person arrested in the plaza appealed and U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper agreed with the appellant that the phrase in the law banning “a harangue or oration” was unconstitutionally vague. This week a 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned that decision, saying that the language is clear enough. (Washington Post)


Trade Policy:  Funny Trump didn’t mention this Tuesday night in his address to Congress. Instead he waited until the next day to announce “a sharp break from U.S. trade policy,” saying the U.S. “may ignore certain rulings by the World Trade Organization if those decisions infringe on U.S. sovereignty.” He sent his proposals to Congress. The Washington Post wrote that the new policies “could affect businesses and consumers worldwide” and suggested that the U.S. “could unilaterally impose tariffs against countries it thinks have unfair trade practices.”


Attorney General:  As you know, the Attorney General, as Director of the Justice Department, oversees the FBI. The FBI is the agency investigating the Russian connection. In January, at his confirmation hearing for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions said “I did not have communications with the Russians.” (CNN) He lied. He had a couple of meetings. He spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in July and again in September when he was a senior member of the influential Armed Services Committee “as well as one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers.” The Washington Post noted that this could “fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R, CA) and House Oversight and Government Reform committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R, UT) were the first Republicans to call for Sessions to recuse himself from the federal investigations. And he did recuse himself “from any probe related to 2016 presidential campaign.” (Washington Post) I wonder if he’ll recuse himself from any investigations into Russian connections other than just the presidential campaign.


Travel Ban:  A report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assessing the threat from the 7 countries on Trump’s travel ban (TWW, Refugees, 1/28/17) “casts doubt on the necessity of the executive order, concluding that citizenship is an ‘unreliable’ threat indicator and that people from the 7 countries have rarely been implicated in U.S.-based terrorism.” (Washington Post)


Obamacare:  Apparently the Affordable Care Act (ACA) replacement bill has been completed. Haven’t seen it? Neither has anyone else. It’s being hidden in a basement in Congress “under lock and key.” Many congress critters are miffed and want to see it. (CNBC) Vox reported that the bill was rumored to be in room H-157, “a nondescript meeting room in the House of Representatives,” but when legislators arrived there, Capitol Police were guarding the entrance. John Oliver has a summary of the Republicans’ problems with Obamacare and what they’re doing about it. (You Tube)


Shell Knew:  Shell Oil has known for a long time about the dangers of climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels. In 1991 it produced a film warning “of the catastrophic risks.” This 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, “was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warns of extreme weather, floods, famines, and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warms the world. The serious warning was ‘endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990.’” Watch it and think about all the damage Shell has done since. (Guardian)


Keystone XL:  Transcanada has “suspended” its suit in the NAFTA court. (TWW, Keystone XL, 1/9/16) This is because it’s getting the pipeline. (Reuters)


DAPL:  Storebrand, “a sustainable investment manager with $68 billion in assets,” is divesting from 3 companies tied to the Dakota Access pipeline. It sold off $34.8 million in shares in Phillips 65, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, and Enbridge. (Guardian)


Rainforest:  The NY Times did an extensive piece on the deforestation of the Rainforest. The authors noted that the “Save the Rainforest” movement had been rolling back the destruction, but “Cargill and other food giants are pushing deeper into the wilderness.” They explain: “The reports of fresh deforestation come despite a landmark deal signed 3 years ago by Cargill and other companies that included a target of ‘eliminating deforestation from the production of agricultural commodities like palm oil, soy, and beef products by 2020.’ Neither Cargill nor any other company in the area is following the agreement. Rather, they’ve increased production and the destruction of the Rainforest is at an all-time high.


Extinction:  According to “the world’s leading biologists, ecologists, and economists,” 1 in 5 species on Earth faces extinction, “and that will rise to 50% by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken. (Guardian) How long will it be before humans get on the list?


Anthropocene Epoch:  Scientists have found new evidence that we are living in a new geological epoch - the Anthropocene. (TWW, Climate Change, 2/18/17; Plastic Pollution, 1/30/16; Hyper-Anthropocene Age, 8/1/15) Researchers have found 208 of the more than 5,200 officially recognized minerals that are exclusively, or largely, “linked to human activity, with crystals forming in locations as diverse as shipwrecks, mines, and even museum drawers.” (Guardian)


Solar:  If all of the above has spurred you on to install solar panels on your home, Guardian offers a great little video with tips for how to do this, what to watch for, and why it’s time to switch. “Turning your home into a mini power plant can save you good money on the electric bill.” You can start your research with this federally funded, comprehensive database “that lists all sorts of incentives and policies for renewable energy by state.”


Robots:  Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute wrote that the fear of automation in the workforce as job-stealing robots is fictitious. “Robots are not leading to mass joblessness and are not the cause of wage stagnation or growing wage inequality. . . We should focus on policy choices that lead to things that truly threaten workers and their families like eroding labor standards, declining unionization, elevated unemployment, unbalanced globalization, and declining top tax rates.” 


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